A Dozen Master Strokes
By Lee Pace
Payne and his putt. No doubt the 20-footer Payne Stewart drained on the last shot of the 1999 U.S. Open is the most famous shot and the most notable victory in a century and a quarter of golf in the Sandhills. But there have plenty more watershed wins, among them these dandy dozen:
1903 Donald Ross wins the North & South Open. There was no “Golf architect Donald Ross” when he came to America from Dornoch, Scotland, in 1899. He was a green keeper, club maker, caddie master and tournament competitor. It was only when Ross settled in at Pinehurst that he evolved into the nation’s foremost designer over the next half century. In the third rendition of a tournament later considered one of golf’s “majors” until it was shuttered in 1951, Ross showed his golf skills acumen by shooting 73-74 to beat Jack Jolly by four shots.
1936 Denny Shute wins the PGA Championship. The No. 2 course first opened as 18 holes in 1907, but it wasn’t until 1935 that Ross arrived at his final (and current) configuration and converted the greens from a sand/clay base to Bermuda grass. What better coming out party than the PGA Championship? The championship was played in mid-November and Shute collected a 3-and-2 victory over Jimmy Thomson and a $1,000 first-prize check. The key shot: a 3-wood second shot onto the green on the par-5 16th to 5 feet and a conceded putt for eagle.
1940 Ben Hogan wins the North & South Open. Hogan was a nobody after eight years on the pro golf tour in 1940 and was on the verge of abandoning the nomadic life for a club pro job in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. But the powder keg finally erupted in mid-March, Hogan winning the tournament by three shots over Sam Snead. From there he won in Greensboro and Asheville, and his new-found confidence and momentum was all it took to launch him into golf’s competitive stratosphere. “I won one just in time,” Hogan said. “I needed that win.”
1948 Harvie Ward wins the North & South Amateur. The University of North Carolina junior beat Arnold Palmer in the semifinals of the annual April amateur golf confab, and the next day carloads of his fraternity brothers and classmates road-tripped their way from Chapel Hill to Pinehurst for the 36-hole championship match against career amateur Frank Stranahan. With caddie Barney Google carrying the bag and reading the greens, Ward one-putted 18 greens in 36 holes and collected a 1-up victory.
1951 U.S. team wins the Ryder Cup. It wasn’t high drama, but it was the Ryder Cup. The PGA of America brought the 1951 Ryder Cup to Pinehurst No. 2 for the ninth rendition of the event launched in 1927. It was quite the sleepy affair compared to the megawatt production of today, with only 30 media members credentialed and resort golfers filling the tee sheets on courses Nos. 1, 3, and 4 on Sunday as the final round of singles competition was held. The Americans, led by Hogan and Snead, handily beat the team from Great Britain and Ireland, 9.5 to 2.5.
1965 Billy Joe Patton wins the Southern Amateur. Perhaps no one more exemplified the mid-1900s essence of Pinehurst — the quest of great golf and good times — more than Billy Joe Patton, the pride of Morganton, N.C. One of the country’s finest amateurs through the late 1940s and all of the ’50s and ’60s, Patton won three North & South Amateurs and made the semifinals of the 1962 U.S. Amateur, all on No. 2. His last big win at Pinehurst came at the age of 43 when Billy Joe collected the Southern Amateur by firing a final-round 69 to edge Downing Gray by one shot. “Pinehurst has added more to my life than any other place I ever played,” Patton said.
1974 Johnny Miller wins the World Open. A new golf shrine and the “golden boy” of the PGA Tour. What more could you want? The World Golf Hall of Fame opened its doors in September 1974 on land to the east of the fourth green/fifth tee of No. 2 with an unveiling and induction ceremony that featured the 13 original inductees. Then Miller won the World Open by beating Jack Nicklaus, Frank Beard and Bob Murphy in a playoff on the second extra hole. Miller laced a three-wood second shot on the par-5 16th hole for a two-putt birdie and the victory.
1985 Jackie Nicklaus wins the North & South Amateur. Jack Nicklaus as a stocky 19-year-old with a crew cut won the North & South Amateur in 1959. With a trim waistline and stylishly long blond hair in 1975, he beat Billy Casper in a playoff to become the World Open champion. And as a 45-year-old businessman and father, Nicklaus watched as eldest son Jack II won the North & South Amateur in 1985, beating Tom McKnight 2-and-1. “I don’t think there’s any question, winning at Pinehurst as a father was by far the most special,” Nicklaus said.
1991 Craig Stadler wins the PGA Tour Championship. It was the debut of the Dedman Era and Pinehurst being back in the spotlight of competitive golf. Robert Dedman Sr. of Dallas bought Pinehurst in 1984, and one of his goals was to get No. 2 back into the rotation of national competition — whether it be the pro tour, the USGA or the PGA of America. The first domino fell when Deane Beman brought the PGA Tour to Pinehurst in October 1991 for the Tour Championship. Stadler shot a five-under-par score of 279, and only four players broke par for four rounds that week.
1992 Tiger Woods wins the Insurance Youth Championship. PGA Tour pro Pat McGowan, a Southern Pines resident and son-in-law of Pine Needles owner Peggy Kirk Bell, was stunned to see a 17-year-old hit his 1-iron the same distance McGowan hit his driver. “I’d never seen anything like this kid,” McGowan said. That kid was Tiger Woods, who won the Insurance Youth Golf Championship at Pinehurst No. 7. Woods was a rising high school senior from Cypress, Calif., and dominated the field, winning by nine shots.
1996 Annika Sorenstam wins the U.S. Women’s Open. Pinehurst Resort was getting back into the national conversation in 1990s, why not add Pine Needles to the mix? The USGA announced in October 1991 it would bring the 1996 Women’s Open to Pine Needles in Southern Pines, a course with excellent bona fides because of its designer, Donald Ross, and its owner, LPGA founding member Peggy Kirk Bell. Sweden native Annika Sorenstam won in a six-shot rout with a 272 total, eight-under, with a Women’s Open record at the time of 106,000 attendees converging at Pine Needles.
2014 Michelle Wie wins the U.S. Women’s Open. It was early 2009 and Pebble Beach had begged out of its commitment to host the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open. USGA CEO David Fay had an idea. The men’s U.S. Open was set for Pinehurst that year, so why not hold a one-off, two-week championship extravaganza in June 2014 on Pinehurst No. 2? “Somewhere Ernie Banks must be smiling — ‘Let’s play two,’” Fay said. One week after Martin Kaymer won the men’s event, Wie, the former child prodigy now 24 years old, shot a final-round 70 to win by two shots over Stacy Lewis.
Lee Pace is a freelance golf writer who has written about Sandhills area golf for four decades and is the author of club histories about Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Mid Pines, Pine Needles and Forest Creek.